Tropoja, 8 October 2021
We believe that the ongoing ‘deployment’ of hydropower on the Valbona River is not only an environmental issue, but is at base a key and crucial issue of Human Rights.
Human Rights – Rule of Law – Access to Justice
Access to justice is a central right according to EU law. If you do not have access to justice, you cannot make other rights a reality.
The people of Tropoja do NOT have access to justice, as was proven yesterday 7 October.
- 21 July 21: The high court of Albania rules that the 2 Dragobia Energy hydropower plants in Valbona must stop all construction and/or operation.
- July – October 21: The hydropowers and developer ignore the court decision, because they have not been formally required to stop by a bailiff.
- September 21: The formal court decision is published. Now it must be delivered by the plaintiff (ngo TOKA and 27 local inhabitants) to a bailiff whose job it is to execute the decision. The bailiff’s job is to formally notify the developer of the court decision, and give them 10 days to voluntarily stop working. After this, if they have not stopped, the bailiff requests police assistance to stop them, and any continued activity becomes a crime.
- 5 October 21: Instead of voluntarily obeying the court decision, the developer ‘turns on’ the Dragobia HPP, operating for the first time. The river is immediately reduced to a small flow of thick grey water. The Cerem HPP has already been operating for several months, and the river bed is completely dry.
- 7 October 21: TOKA visits the public bailiff of Tropoja, Eduart Mrishaj, with all the necessary documents in hand, and requests that he proceed with executing the decision. HE REFUSES. He states that the bailiff’s office has “liberty” and he can refuse to execute a court decision. This is absolutely NOT true. Asked to put his decision in writing, he refuses. He advises TOKA to employ a private bailiff.
In Europe – and Albania – the key document defining access to justice and rule of law regarding environmental matters is the 1998 Aarhus convention. Albania signed the convention in 2001, agreeing to the following:
“In order to contribute to the protection of the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being, each Party shall guarantee the rights of access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice in environmental matters in accordance with the provisions of this Convention.”
As is clear, none of the Aarhus protocol has been followed in the case of Valbona.
We have NOT had access to information.
We have NOT had public consultation.
And as the bailiff in Tropoja made absolutely clear yesterday, we do NOT have access to justice. Despite a high court order which has been in existence for over 2 months, the developer continues to do whatever they want while Valbona River and the local people pay the price.
TOKA will not be stopped by irresponsibility and cowardice. Working with our lawyers we will ensure that the justice system of Albania enforces this decision. At the same time, we are in conversation with national and international institutions to monitor and support us in this situation, and make sure that Albania honors her commitments to ensure that all citizens have access to justice – not just the rich ones. This on-going scandal will not vanish, and it will not be hidden. It must be addressed.
At a time when Albania is undergoing particular scrutiny for potential inclusion in the EU – but nonetheless continues to score as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe – it is important to understand that the dire situation of rural communities like those surrounding Valbona cannot be ignored, if any real and accurate assessment of Albania’s progress is to be made. Unless these situations are redressed, Albania cannot claim to have even a chance of becoming a prosperous nation in which “all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and [where] economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.” (from the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development)
“It doesn’t matter whether we have hope or not. With or without hope, we MUST keep going. It is our responsibility to this land, and to future generations. And with or without hope, we must win, because that is justice.” – TOKA president Catherine Bohne
“Legal rights are of value for an individual only when they can be asserted in a court of law and when this court renders correct justice, in due time and in a way that inspires public trust.”
– OSCE Ambassador Eugen Wollfarth, 2012
For more information:
Telephone: Liridon Mustafaj +355 (0)69 46 24 502
Email: Catherine Bohne email@example.com